After signing his last will and testament, eating pizza with his uncle and listening to a hymn sung by an attorney and a Catholic priest, John Albert Taylor met death.
Four .30-caliber bullets took the life of the convicted child-killer shortly after midnight Friday. It was the first execution of its kind in 19 years.Taylor was already strapped into a specially made black, metal chair when witnesses from his family, the government and local news media arrived at midnight.
His eyes darted back and forth nervously until Warden Hank Galetka and Deputy Director of Institutions Jim Gillespie approached him to ask if he had any last words.
"Yes, I do," he said, looking straight ahead into floodlights that blinded him to the sight of the executioners.
"I would just like to say for my family, my friends; as the poem was written, `Remember me, but let me go.' "
He nodded, and Gillespie left the room. Galetka looked up as he placed a black hood over Taylor's head. The warden left the room and seconds later, at 12:03 a.m., five rifles fired in unison.
The white, cloth target that had been velcroed to his blue jumpsuit disappeared. His chest heaved upward, his left hand tightened into a fist, released slightly, tightened again and then gradually loosened as his body succumbed to death. His head fell back.
Galetka re-entered the room after the shots were fired. He stood with his hands clasped behind his back and looked around the temporary room with plywood walls. He took deep breaths as he waited for Taylor to die. After about a minute, he escorted a doctor into the room.
With latex-gloved hands, the doctor climbed onto the podium where the chair was mounted and lifted the black hood. He felt Taylor's neck for a pulse. He then took a pair of scissors out of his front pocket and cut two holes in the hood. He used a pen light to look into Taylor's eyes.
Taylor, 36, was pronounced dead at 12:07 a.m.
Sherron King, the victim's mother, said she didn't have to be told when Taylor died.
"It was like something came over my heart," she said. "I don't know if I imagined it or not. I knew he was dead."
Weeping, King added, "It broke my heart to know that another human being had to die . . . I know what his mom's going through . . . So many people had to die in this. But I know we can't allow him to
live; it just hurts so much."
Taylor's former attorney Ed Brass, who met with Taylor during his last hours, said he believes Taylor was afraid but determined to die.
Corrections officers said Taylor slept on the prison cot Wednesday night with two sheets, two blankets and three pillows. He was restless and fell asleep somewhere between 2 a.m. and 5 a.m.
Before being moved to the solitary cell about 9 p.m. Wednesday, Taylor was allowed to smoke a cigarette on a chair outside the building.
"He was asked if he wanted another one and he said, `No, that's fine,' " Galetka said.
Officers detailed nearly every moment of his final hours.
The last day of his life Taylor visited with his family, his attorneys and his priest through a small window in the room's metal door, officially called the cuff port.
Brass said during his visit, which lasted about three hours, Taylor was upbeat. Officers recorded the conversation between Brass, attorney Kristine Rogers and Taylor as "constant" and said he seemed almost happy. The talking was peppered with frequent laughter.
His mood changed a little after the prison's Catholic priest, the Rev. Reyes Rodriguez, gave him last rites. An entry at 10:48 p.m. said that while Rodriguez read a scripture, Taylor cried with his head bowed. A few minutes later they held hands.
Brass left Taylor alone at 11:15 p.m. He said he went to the command center and waited in case Taylor changed his mind. He didn't.
Two things Taylor was adamant about were his innocence and his determination to die. Brass said before he left, he offered him one more chance to change his mind and file an appeal. Taylor refused.
Galetka said he spoke with Taylor three times Thursday and Taylor never admitted to raping and killing 11-year-old Charla Nicole King in 1989.
Even an appeal to fight for his life from the nun who wrote a book about befriending a death-row inmate that spawned the critically acclaimed movie "Dead Man Walking" didn't change his mind.
Galetka said after Taylor's attorneys left, the condemned man sat on his bed with his head down for quite some time.
"He seemed very solemn," Galetka said. When the "tie-down team" came to Taylor's cell to escort him to the room where he would later die, Taylor went willingly.
"He offered no resistance at all. . . . It appeared to be that this is what he wanted," Galetka said. Though he had the option of sedatives, Taylor refused them. He did, however, take stomach antacids several times during his final hours.
Eleven officers escorted Taylor to the newly constructed but temporary room. They strapped him into the chair, placing restraints on his arms, legs and across his stomach.
Taylor sat in the chair only a few minutes before being asked for a final statement, officials said. One more strap that wrapped around his neck was secured by Galetka before the hood was placed over his head.
Time moved quickly for some witnesses, but for most, the seconds seemed to stretch into minutes.
"It's the perception of the pressure - internal pressure," Gillespie said. "You see everything in slow motion."
The reporters who witnessed Taylor's death were given a tour of the room where he was shot to death after his body was removed and any blood was cleaned up. The only physical evidence of the execution was a bullet hole slightly smaller than the size of a dime in the wood behind the chair.
Of the nine reporters who witnessed the killing, three expressed emotional responses to the experience; two of those were near tears.
Elliott King, Charla King's uncle, was the only member of the victim's family to witness the execution.
"I was glad I got to see it," King said. "I thought he died very, very quickly."
King said he didn't feel any sympathy for Taylor.
"I think that he wasn't willing to make any restitution towards Charla (by admitting guilt)," he said. "I feel great. I feel it's good that he's gone. . . . Sherron (Charla's mother) won't have to keep reliving this crime."
As for Sherron King, the execution brought only sadness.
"It didn't change anything," she said Friday morning. "I didn't get any satisfaction out of this death. . . . I've already made my peace with John."
On Monday, the execution room will be restored into the sewing room where inmates make clothing. Following an autopsy, Taylor's body will be cremated, the ashes placed in a box and shipped to Oregon.
The same uncle who watched Taylor die, Gordon Lee, will decide what to do with his remains.
Measure would eliminate firing-squad option
A legislator introduced a bill Friday that would eliminate the firing squad in Utah.
Rep. Sheryl Allen, R-Bountiful, introduced the bill just eight hours after John Albert Taylor was killed by firing squad for the 1989 rape and murder of an 11-year-old girl. It was the first such execution in the United States in 19 years.Comment on this story
Allen's bill would eliminate the firing squad as an option for those convicted of capital murder, leaving lethal injection as the state's only method of execution. The bill, if passed, would outlaw the firing squad as of Feb. 28, 1996.
According to the bill, any death-row inmate who chooses to die by lethal injection before Feb. 28 would not be allowed to change his selection to the firing squad. If an inmate chooses the firing squad as his preferred method of death before Feb. 28, however, it could be carried out.